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Yellow Jack (1938)

In the fever-stricken areas of Cuba a brave band of scientists, doctors and U. S. Marines fight a losing battle against the deadly plague of 'Yello Jack,' until the great heroic risk taken by an Irish sergeant brings victory.


George B. Seitz


Edward Chodorov (screen play), Sidney Howard (from the play by) | 1 more credit »


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Complete credited cast:
Robert Montgomery ... John O'Hara
Virginia Bruce ... Frances Blake
Lewis Stone ... Major Reed
Andy Devine ... Charlie Spill
Henry Hull ... Dr. Jesse Lazear
Charles Coburn ... Dr. Finlay
Buddy Ebsen ... 'Jellybeans'
Henry O'Neill ... Gorgas
Janet Beecher ... Miss Macdade
William Henry ... Breen
Alan Curtis ... Brinkerhof
Sam Levene ... Busch
Stanley Ridges ... Dr. James Carroll
Phillip Terry ... Ferguson
Jonathan Hale ... Major General Leonard Wood


In 1898 Cuba, U.S. troops who have survived the Spanish-American War are now dying by the hundreds from disease -- yellow fever, known as "yellow jack." Major Walter Reed, an Army physician, struggles to find the cause of the infection and to overcome governmental interference. When an answer seems at last possible, Reed decides that the only way to test the theory is to expose his own men to the disease. He cannot order men to undergo the test. Yet finding volunteers seems impossible. Without them, though, yellow jack will perhaps kill millions. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Passed | See all certifications »






Release Date:

27 May 1938 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Cinco Heróis See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The play was based in part on Paul De Kruif's 1926 novel "Microbe Hunters," which had a chapter on Walter Reed's work on yellow fever. See more »


While Breen and the other men are digging and talking about mosquitoes, his hair changes from being combed and uncombed between shots. See more »

Crazy Credits

Yellow Jack celebrates what these men did, rather than what they were. That their heroism however, should not go unrecorded, their true names are here given. (Followed by the names of the 5 volunteers for the yellow fever experiment.) See more »


Version of Celanese Theatre: Yellow Jack (1952) See more »


Battle Hymn of the Republic
(1861) (uncredited)
Music by William Steffe (circa 1856)
Lyrics by Julia Ward Howe (1861)
Played during the foreword and often as background music
See more »

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User Reviews

The Walter Reed Story
10 October 2005 | by bkoganbingSee all my reviews

Yellow Jack is a film that should be seen more often, if for no other reason than that people should know and appreciate who Walter Reed was and why the United States Army named its medical facility after him.

Sidney Howard had written a play about Reed and his efforts to find a cure for yellow fever, popularly called yellow jack. The original play brought in the British army efforts to do the same thing as well. All that was eliminated and we concentrate on Reed here. Just as well that movie audiences were not diverted from what was going on in Cuba.

Walter Reed was a member of the army medical corps who headed a team of doctors sent specifically to find a cure for yellow fever. Previous reviewers have noted what a scourge it was in the western hemisphere. During a hot summer, the mosquitoes who were the carriers, went as far north as our mid-Atlantic states.

Reed met a lot of resistance, but he was fortunate to have as the Governor General of Cuba after the Spanish American War, Leonard Wood. You see, Wood was a doctor and had joined the army medical corps himself. Wood is played in the film by Jonathan Hale.

Yellow Jack ran for 79 performances during 1934 and the part of the Irish sergeant was played by James Stewart on Broadway. In fact Stewart's performance was noticed by MGM which signed him and brought him to Hollywood. Why they didn't use him in the film, God only knows.

In his entire career in the cinema, I don't think Jimmy Stewart ever attempted any kind of accent, even when he was playing an ethnic or regional type. I'm sure he knew his limitations there.

Now I have heard far worse attempts at a brogue than Robert Montgomery's effort. It's passable enough and Montgomery is a skilled enough player to smooth over the rest. Montgomery is a sergeant in the medical corps and four of his men and he volunteer to be exposed to the Yellow Fever to prove a theory that certain mosquitoes spread the disease. The rest of the volunteers are Sam Levene, Alan Curtis, William Henry, and Buddy Ebsen. Sam Levene was the only member of the original Broadway cast to repeat his role on screen.

Lewis Stone, best known to movie audiences as Judge Hardy, is a stern and dedicated Walter Reed. Like so many scientists Reed met with a lot of ridicule from the medical profession. There always is ridicule until the experts are proved wrong.

If there is a flaw in the film it's Virginia Bruce. Her romance with Montgomery doesn't really advance the plot and she looks out of place, fresh as a daisy for someone working in the tropics.

I'd have liked to have seen more of Charles Coburn as the doctor who Reed based his ideas on and less of Ms. Bruce.

Still and all Yellow Jack is an entertaining and informative film about some very courageous people.

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